All that Jazz
For many, the road to veterinary school is a straight path. For some, the straight path includes a couple (or a lot) of bumps along the way. For a few like Jessica Elbert, the path isn’t straight at all. It’s a scenic route, with lots of curves and stops.
The inside cover of her music CD says: “Jessica Elbert’s first words weren’t spoken, they were sung, so it was no surprise that music would become her life’s work.”
But life happens, and what may seem to be the logical career choice at first, may not be the final career destination. “For a few years when I was young, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but music took over,” Elbert (’18) said. Growing up in a family of singers, Elbert took voice lessons, sang in choirs and bands at church and in high school, and joined an a cappella group in college.
Elbert started her undergraduate studies as a psychology major and had completed her major requirements when she decided to pursue a music career. Classically trained, Elbert loved the music of opera. But, she also enjoyed the fun of pop music. “I fell into jazz. It is a great medium between opera and pop, of musical depth and commercial appeal,” Elbert said.
After graduation, Elbert moved to New York City. “I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a job, but a friend found an apartment in mid-town Manhattan,” she said. Elbert connected with Peter Eldridge, a singer/composer with New York Voices. He had an opening in his schedule for a student.
Two months later with encouragement from Eldridge, Elbert found a pianist and put together a band.
“New York has lots of venues for musicians – that’s the beauty of New York,” Elbert said. “The brutality of the city is that there are a lot of musicians willing to perform for free.”
For musicians to survive, though, they have to get exposure and experience. And, that’s what Elbert did. “When I moved to New York, I had a seven-year plan where I had to stick with the music. And, after 10 years, if I was still struggling to make a living, I would re-evaluate my career choice.”
After eight years as a jazz singer, Elbert decided to develop a press kit to market herself to wedding planners and redesign her website. The launch of the press kit and new website coincided with the crash of 2008. “Everyone was hit hard financially. New Yorkers weren’t going out much to restaurants, or hiring live musicians for their events.”
At the peak of her music career, Elbert was working three jobs. “I had to make some tough decisions,” she said. “I took a temp job as a receptionist at a wealth management company, eventually becoming a compliance officer for the firm.”
Elbert attributes the confidence that she gained during that job with her decision to pursue veterinary medicine. “It took me 18 months to decide to end my pursuit of music, and to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. I wanted to make sure I was moving on to the right thing.”
It had been 10 years since Elbert graduated from college. “It took a few years for me to re-take some of the sciences courses and other pre-requisites for veterinary school, while I worked at a small animal clinic to pay the bills and get animal experience,” said Elbert.
During that time, Elbert fell in love with the microscopic world and came across a job posting for a wildlife pathologist position on the AVMA website. “I read the job description and I knew this was the type of job I wanted.”
At 34 years of age, she entered veterinary school.
As she begins her third year this fall, Elbert is certain that the field of pathology is the right choice for her. “I’m mesmerized by the disease process from the cellular level to the gross level. I love that pathology helps answers the question of ‘Why?’” Had Elbert chosen a career in her major of psychology, she would have liked to be a profiler. “I’ve always been drawn to the abnormal.”
Does she miss performing on stage with her band? “I do miss music. There’s electricity in the air as the music starts, and as the music continues it elevates all those in attendance. Music is healing. I loved that experience.”
“Right now, I’m focused on learning as much as I can,” Elbert said. “I’m looking forward to a career as a pathologist. And I’m grateful for the opportunity from Iowa State to pursue this rewarding profession. ”
Elbert is spending the summer in Tasmania, where she’s doing an internship focused on Devil Facial Tumor Disease that has devastated the population of Tasmanian Devils.